Monday, December 19, 2011

Crops as Props and Back to Basics...

Who needs a ShouldersBack
when you've got one of these?
 I love winter for a couple of reasons, namely big comfy sweaters and warm socks, and the fact that it's “Back to Basics” time at the barn. Call me nuttier than a Christmas fruitcake, but I love all the drill work and position fixing exercises, the cavaletti and the gymnastics. I’ll happily twirl around on the end of a longe line, lesson after lesson, because I know that soon after the immediate torture (awkwardness?) is over, I’ll see results.

I have a secondary reason for being so happy to take a step back this winter. My confidence, never great to start with, has been severely shaken since my fall. Sure, I can tell myself to “Suck it up,” or “Get over it already,” but that doesn't really work. I can also visualize perfect courses and good outcomes until the cows come home. I know I “CAN” go out and jump a 3’ course, and can remember times when I’ve done it quite well, but at the moment, I am not just not comfortable doing it.

So, I am putting my armchair psychology degree, obtained through my one college course (decades ago) numerous self-help books, hours of Internet research and a couple of Dr. Phil episodes, to work and have used my problem solving skills to outline a plan: I’m taking a step back until I feel comfortable going forward.

In essence, by working on the things I can control, such as my position, balance and strength in the saddle, and eye for distances, I feel I am minimizing my risk, enlarging my comfort zone, and better equipping myself to succeed when I AM ready to move back up. Make sense? It does to me.

Enter “Crops as Props.” The last couple of lessons have involved riding either with a dressage whip behind my back and through my elbows, or holding a crop in my hands between my thumbs and index finger. The whip behind the back thing has been great in terms of bringing my shoulders back, making me use my hands less, and forcing me to use my seat, legs, and core more (OUCH. Core? What core?) When we jump cavaletti and small fences, it prevents me from picking at Sugar with my reins in hopes of micromanaging to a distance, which pleases her no end, and since I can’t over-use my hands, I’m forced to utilize my other aids and work on my balance.

The lesson after the dressage whip lesson was the crop held horizontally between the hands under the thumbs lesson. Yes, it helps keep the hands still and together and eliminates piano hands, but even more importantly, it forces you to really rely on using your seat and leg aids when turning. One exercise had us spiraling in and out on a circle while cantering - easier said than done. Then we cantered in a small circle over a cavaletti. Holy crap – you may THINK you’re pretty effective with your aids, but these exercises will tell you in a heartbeat if you really are. The funniest part was when we were jumping a small course and had to do a rollback turn: I’m guessing I looked like the Captain of the Titanic trying to turn thr ship away from the iceberg. Not a pretty sight.

Trust me, these lessons are ugly as sin while they’re happening, but after each of these "Back to Basics" lessons my next ride has been great since my position and aids are stronger and more effective. While hacking the other day I did the canter circle over the cavaletti exercise and found myself getting 90% of my distances, landing on the correct lead consistently and maintaining a smoother, more consistent rhythm.

Coincidence? I think not. And the confidence thing? Slowly growing…


  1. These are both GREAT exercises, and I should force myself to do them too. *Should* being the operative word....

  2. I love flat work too! Thats what makes me think I would actually really like being a dressage queen if I ever give up on the whole jumping dealio. Keep up the great work, I think you'll have your confidence back in no time.

  3. I am going to try some of these. My shoulders are awful!

    How long were you showing at 3' before your fall? Did you get back on that day at the show and continue jumping? Do you have an ultimate riding goal?

  4. Thanks, guys! I totally think one day I would really enjoy doing the dressage thing, though I'm not ready yet.

    Erin, I've been jumping 3' on and off. Finally got there, then she was injured for about 10 months, and it took a while to get back. So I guess really only about a season. I couldn't get back on that day -- was too injured/concussed. Still dealing w/ badly sprained neck and post concussion issues.

    The ultimate goal would be to be able to do a 3'6" course. The realistic and sane one, and more doable, is to ultimately get to where we can show comfortably in the 1.0m classes.

  5. Oh, ok. You're six inches away! I think you're doing the right thing to focus on other excercises and put the fence height on the back burner. I find it also helpful to ride a crazy horse that distracts you from the fence height as you singularly focus on staying straight! But that might not help your overall confidence.

    Although, I am far from having it down, working on an automatic release has helped a lot with balance and comfortability over fences. Once I got the hang of it, I felt much more secure in the saddle. Looking forward to seeing your progress over the winter!

  6. Amy, If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made. I suppose we can add your "Back to Basics" lessons to that list? Keep at it and by spring it's all going to look a whole lot prettier.

  7. Excellent! I use both techniques from time to time but would love to have somebody able to lunge me for a few lessons. That would be fabulous.

    You'll gain your confidence back as you strengthen yourself....I've been in that place!

    Keep up the hard work.

  8. Thanks for the comments guys! The saga continues, but it's all about the journey. right? no one came out of the womb riding like McLain or Anky or Mary King.